The Magical Persuasiveness of Color

Humans rose to the top of the food chain due to a unique ability that only humans have: the ability to see color. It was this ability that allowed humans to notice the Aurora Borealis and make two wishes, for beer and intelligence, in that order. Both were foundational for the society we experience today, and since that humble, drunken beginning to human history, we have been employing the use of color to communicate not just ideas but emotions, feelings, and tone. As one may have guessed, color is a huge part of what I do in graphic design, photography, and illustration. You too may find color a useful tool to help you communicate, but what does it all mean? How can one learn to speak in color when one barely knows how to speak beyond 140 carefully chosen emojis at a time? Well, crack open another cold one, buddy. We are gonna find out.

How many colors are there

How many colors are there really? 3? 152? Thousands? thousands of thousands? Perhaps more? Come on, dude, it isn’t a hard question!

The Science of Art

Have you ever wondered why some bulls get mad after being stabbed and electrocuted and then are thrust into a confusing arena while a flamboyantly-dressed Spanish man taunts it with a sword while people scream? It’s because the fabric being waved in the bull’s face is red. Red colors are intense, passionate, mood-enhancing, and hunger-inducing. No really, red can increase your appetite. But what makes red do these things? Unlike your deadbeat uncle Ricky, color works in several ways. Color can cause reactions in your brain from contextual clues and also from psychological reactions that are way too advanced for a blog like this. It all boils down to each color having specific effects that impact most people in very similar ways. Because of this consistency, it is possible to use colors to influence others, impress your ex-girlfriend, and repel the forces of darkness. However, color is subtle and a mistake in color choice could throw your whole plan out the window. So how does one know what colors to use in what situation?


Pantone’s color of the year, Marsala, “enriches our minds, bodies and souls”. It also sells REALLY well.

The Right Color for the Job

A color like green has been shown to establish a feeling of calmness and invigoration. It can also increase reading comprehension when words are put on a green background. The question then becomes, what color of green exactly? How off-green, dark-green, blue-green, green-screen, mean-green, brown-green, pale-green, or yellow can you get before the characteristic traits of green go away or are replaced by other color’s feelings? Color is a spectrum from red to violet and every color along that line has its own combination of feelings that fit its position on that spectrum. Between red and yellow is a lesser-known color called “orange”. Red helps increase reaction time while yellow can be very stimulating. Orange is used as an attention-grabber as it is a balance between the colors and is used prominently in street signs that convey unusual but important information.


Common colors, the visible light spectrum, and all colors in full saturation. How does THAT make you feel?

Mind Control for Kids ages 7 and Up

If you are anything like my Pappy, you’ve probably come up to me while I’m eating lunch and asked, “How do you know if the color red I see is the same as the color red you see? What if everyone sees colors differently? Don’t have an answer for that one do ya, boy?” It’s an interesting question because the spectrum of light interpreted by our brains is hard to describe in terms either too abstract to be descriptive or in terms of color itself. The answer is that based on the common reactions our brain has along with other research we can tell that for the most part, brains all interpret colors the same. However, eyes have quite a bit of variety in the parts that detect color and light. Because of this, like various kinds of film or different digital cameras, we all see color just a tiny bit differently from each other. Some people have color blindness of varying degrees, and eyes can vary across populations and sexes. That doesn’t mean that what I see as blue, you see as pink, but it means that you may have a slightly more vibrant looking world than your deadbeat uncle Ricky, but that could be for other reasons too. Color still influences people in similar ways because it interacts with the brain the same. Colors that are evocative of time periods, styles of movies, or how serious a parade is can be readily apparent without any other context. Color is a powerful tool to quickly communicate complex or subtle ideas. Masterful use of color takes time and study. Pairing colors can be even harder, but the results can be even more effective. A color misstep can be distracting or off-putting in an otherwise strong message, like printing your resume with yellow on neon pink paper because your black cartridge ran out and those things are 60 bucks and the neon pink paper is all you have left over from your little sister’s birthday party invites. Spoiler alert, you aren’t going to get that accounting internship after all. So how would one master the art of color?

Kuler Wheel

Adobe’s color picking webapp formerly known as “Kuler” will either provide you with hours of entertainment or drive you insane.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you plan on using color to communicate, you’re at least a little weird (who plans that kind of stuff?). That’s okay though, I get it, but do plan to spend some time looking up what different colors do and how they make people feel before setting out to brainwash your enemies with paint chips. The web has a few varying opinions on what all the colors really mean, in no small part because colors, hues, and shades can be subtle and colors can have many meanings within various contexts, so try many color options and ask your buddies which ones they gravitate towards. Learn how colors fit together and compliment each other and how using colors that are all built around a singular theme or idea can encapsulate that better than a singular color can. Color is a powerful tool of communication when employed correctly, it just needs to be paired with an equally strong message on other fronts as well.

Trivia: receive 10% off a logo design or get 10% off senior photography when you email me the correct answer to the following question with the subject “Color Me Impressed Trivia” (offer valid through December 11, 2015 and may not be combined with any other offer.)

The chameleon is known for its color-changing abilities, but what two distinct characteristics of its eyes help it see in ways humans cannot? (must have both)


  • Ira
    November 11, 2015, 11:36 AM  Reply

    Loved the blog and I’m hoping for more. That trivia is easy though.

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